Photo Essays

The New Museum’s Triennial Surrounds the Audience with Too Much Art

Frank Benson, "Juliana" (2015) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Frank Benson, “Juliana” (2015) (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The New Museum‘s third triennial, Surround Audience, is not nearly as immersive as its title suggests, and it sabotages many of the most conventional two-dimensional and sculptural works on view. Co-curators Lauren Cornell — the former director of Rhizome — and Ryan Trecartin — the video and performance artist — surely didn’t do this on purpose, but the lion’s share of the exhibition’s paintings, sculptures, and photographs flop. Videos, installations, quasi-archival collections, and performances by Lisa Tan, Donna Kukama, Josh Kline, Geumhyung Jeong, Nadim Abbas, and Eduardo Navarro, among others, are the show’s most memorable, but this tumefied triennial does a disservice to all 51 artists and their more than 150 works by diluting the experiences of its most enveloping pieces and overwhelming the more static ones.

Sascha Braunig, "Squirm" (2014)
Sascha Braunig, “Squirm” (2014) (click to enlarge)

There are plenty of worthwhile works on canvas and paper, like Sascha Braunig‘s wonderfully strange alien portrait paintings and Njideka Akunyili Crosby‘s exquisite mixed media drawings, but this is not their exhibition. Other, less aesthetically appealing works, like Ane Graff‘s marble slab sculptures, Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili‘s abstract photographs, and Avery Singer‘s big monochrome paintings, seem to serve no other purpose than to take up space. In a show so full of expansive projects and ambitious installations — and the obligatory Oculus Rift environment, courtesy Daniel Steegmann Mangrané — curatorial gluttony hurts everyone.

Luckily, Cornell and Trecartin succeed in making sufficient space for some of Surround Audience‘s strongest works, which examine the strange, funny, uncanny, and scary effects of digital technologies on our lives. The most memorable may be Josh Kline’s satiric installation “Freedom” (2015), which finds actor Reggie Brown playing President Obama and delivering a utopian speech about prioritizing social justice, equality, and environmentalism on a large video screen, while Teletubby-like figures in SWAT team gear stand guard in the gallery. Each soldier has a video monitor embedded in its abdomen that shows retired police officers, treated with face-substitution software, performing scripts of current events commentary culled from social media. Cell phone relay towers that have sprouted credit cards for leaves loom overhead, while the room’s military-futuristic floor looks something like the armored tank exterior of the the Barclays Center. Other video works, like Lisa Tan’s “Waves” (2014) — a meditation on Virginia Wolfe’s The Waves, classical paintings of the subject, and the disembodied museum-going enabled by the Google Cultural Institute — and Geumhyung Jeong’s comic “Fitness Guide” (2011) — in which the artist performs a series of increasingly sexual exercises with a modified fitness machine — offer divergent and disarming takes on how we have humanized technology, all the while becoming more computer-like in our ways of thinking and being.

Installation view of works by Onejoon CHE
Installation view of works by Onejoon Che
A visitor exploring Daniel Steegmann Mangrané's Oculus Rift piece "Phantom" (2015)
A visitor exploring Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s Oculus Rift piece “Phantom” (2015)
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "And We Begin to Let Go" (2013)
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “And We Begin to Let Go” (2013)
Shreyas Karle, "He-she object" from the 'Museum Shop of Fetish Objects' (2012)
Shreyas Karle, “He-she object” from the ‘Museum Shop of Fetish Objects’ (2012)
Shreyas Karle, "He-she object" from the 'Museum Shop of Fetish Objects' (2012)
Works by Shreyas Karle from the ‘Museum Shop of Fetish Objects’ (2012)
Installation view of 'Surround Audience' in the second floor galleries
Installation view of ‘Surround Audience’ in the second-floor galleries
Guan Xiao, "The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture" (2012)
Guan Xiao, “The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture” (2012)
Detail of Guan Xiao, "The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture" (2012)
Detail of Guan Xiao, “The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture” (2012)
Eva Kotátková, "Not How People Move But What Moves Them" (2013)
A performer activating Eva Kotátková’s “Not How People Move But What Moves Them” (2013)
Installation view of Josh Kline, "Freedom" (2015)
Installation view of Josh Kline, “Freedom” (2015)
Detail of Josh Kline, "Freedom" (2015)
Detail of Josh Kline, “Freedom” (2015)
Antoine Catala, "Distant Feel" (2015)
Antoine Catala, “Distant Feel” (2015)
Installation view of one of Nadim Abbas's "Chamber" installations
Installation view of one of Nadim Abbas’s “Chamber” installations
Untitled works from 2015 by Olga Balema
Untitled works from 2015 by Olga Balema
Detail of Aleksandra Domanović, "SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)" (2015)
Detail of Aleksandra Domanović, “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)” (2015)
Fourth floor installation view of 'Surround Audience' as seen through Aleksandra Domanović's "SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)" (2015)
Fourth-floor installation view of ‘Surround Audience’ as seen through Aleksandra Domanović’s “SOHO (Substances of Human Origin)” (2015)
Detail of Shelly Nadashi, "A Good Bowl of Soup" (2013)
Detail of Shelly Nadashi, “A Good Bowl of Soup” (2013)
Kiluanji Kia Henda, "Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline)" (2013)
Kiluanji Kia Henda, “Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline)” (2013)
Martine Syms, "Objects of Study" (2015)
Martine Syms, “Objects of Study” (2015)
Ashland Mines's sound and light installation in the New Museum stairwell, "promise of echo" (2015)
Ashland Mines’s sound and light installation in the New Museum stairwell, “promise of echo” (2015)
Visitors watch a performance of DIS's "The Island (KEN)" (2015)
Visitors watch a performance of DIS’s “The Island (KEN)” (2015)
Renaud Jerez, "D" (2014)
Renaud Jerez, “D” (2014)
Steve Roggenbuck's "My Satanic Fitness Regimen (2011) VERY DEMONIC, WOW MOST EVIL VIDEO!!! 666!!!" (2011) in the hallway leading to the basement bathrooms
Steve Roggenbuck’s “My Satanic Fitness Regimen (2011) VERY DEMONIC, WOW MOST EVIL VIDEO!!! 666!!!” (2011) in the New Museum basement

2015 Triennial: Surround Audience runs February 25–May 24 at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side).

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